Orkney councillors have decided people shouldn’t be charged for replacement refuse bins following a report that said the policy caused discontent and the vast majority of residents simply refused to pay.
The local authority’s development and infrastructure committee met this week and elected members were presented with the findings from a review of the policy which meant residents were charged £26.50 for lost, stolen or damaged bins.
The council agreed to introduce the charges in March 2019 in line with similar approaches taken by other Scottish councils.
It said around 400 of the 240-litre bins are replaced each year across the Orkney mainland, Burray and South Ronaldsay at a cost of around £15,000 per year depending on supplier costs at the time.
The council estimated it would receive around £10,600 per year through charging householders for replacement bins. However, between June 2019 and February this year, the council only received £3295 in respect of replacement bins.
The review found that it is likely the majority of replacement bins have actually been supplied free of charge because the council can’t prove whether the people’s bins have been damaged during emptying or not.
The introduction of the policy was described in the review as “challenging” and causing “significant public concern”.
It found the policy resulted in an “extremely high level of dispute” with the vast majority of people refusing to pay for a replacement bin on the grounds that they weren’t the ones who had broken their bin.
For health and safety reasons, damaged bins can’t be loaded onto the council’s collection vehicles.
The review said the situation resulted in many difficult conversations for the council’s customer services staff and it took a “great deal” of officers’ time to sort out.
At the request of councillors, the issue was brought to the development and infrastructure committee on March 30 this year and the decision was made to suspend the charges and undertake the review, which recommended that the charging policy be revoked.
During this week’s meeting, councillor David Dawson said: “As members, we’ve all had representation from constituents who have been aggrieved by having a charge levied for a replacement bin that’s been damaged, often not by their own doing but maybe by the handling of the crews.
“The bins have a finite life, particularly if they’re sitting outside and subjected to UV light, the material becomes very brittle and they’re going to snap and break in due time.
“That’s a given. We knew this would happen.”
Chairman of the committee, Graham Sinclair, said the issue was “probably something that members do not wish to die in the ditch fighting” as it was over what he said was a relatively small sum of money.
Appearing to reference the UK Prime Minister’s recent u-turn over House of Commons anti-sleaze rules, councillor Leslie Manson said: “The fact is that this was a council decision, so the corporate council should be prepared to pay for it.
“I think it’s really important that we pay attention to what may seem like the smaller issues. This got huge anger in our community, particularly for the Kirkwall members.
“Any members of the committee who feel it’s bad form to do a u-turn in the space of 12 months of a policy, just remember that Boris Johnson only took 24 hours to do it recently.”
While councillors were in agreement that the policy should be revoked, it was noted that doing away with the charging policy will mean leaving the council’s environmental services budget with a shortfall of £10,000.
Council leader James Stockan made a proposal, which was carried, that the funds be taken from the local authority’s general contingency fund and that this now be a permanent part of the council’s budget-setting process.
Cllr Stockan said: “I think the public should be aware we are removing this charge, whereas in many parts of the country people are charged for replacement bins. This is something that this council is doing in their favour.”
The decision will now go on to a full council meeting to be held next month.
By local democracy reporter Andrew Stewart